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U.S. Navy Needs To Show Restraint With Vieques Protesters

Island Makes Amnesty International's List Of Human-Rights Violators

U.S. Navy Needs To Show Restraint With Vieques Protesters

EFE News Service

MAY 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002
COMTEX News. All Rights Reserved.

The U.S. Navy needs to show restraint when dealing with peaceful demonstrations held on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques , human rights watchdog Amnesty International said Monday.

During peaceful demonstrations against the U.S. naval presence on the island of Vieques in April and May 2001, the Navy used tear-gas and pepper spray on protesters, AI said in an annual report released at its London headquarters.

In one incident, troops shot rubber bullets and pellets at demonstrators, after a group of activists, carrying flares and white flags, entered the Navy's area of operations, AI said.

In addition, many demonstrators said they had been mistreated after being arrested.

Men and women alike complained "of humiliating procedures during clothed body searches, such as having their breasts or testicles squeezed," the report said.

Others accused their U.S. captors of withholding food, water and medicine for long periods of time and refusing access to a telephone.

"Most only had access to a lawyer after they were brought before a judge after two or three days in detention," AI noted.

After urging the Navy to act with restraint toward the Vieques demonstrators, AI said evidence shows that the Navy went beyond their boundaries in the legitimate use of force on protestors.

"Some of their actions amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in violation of the Convention against Torture and other treaties to which the United States is a party," the organization said.

The Navy denied the accusations, saying that their response to the protests was needed to maintain order.

AI also said Puerto Rican police mistreated four homeless people, who had been transferred against their will to Bayamon and then left out on the streets.

The four men were rounded up as part of a street clean-up operation, during which they were transferred by force, beaten and sprayed with an irritating substance.

An investigation of the incident is underway, AI said.

Problems between island residents and the U.S. Navy started back in April 1999, when a Vieques resident working at the base's firing range was killed by an errant bomb during military training exercises.

The ensuing protests against the Navy's continued presence on the island led to the suspension of military exercises for one year and a U.S. pledge to pull out of Vieques .

After the accident, several groups camped out at firing ranges in an effort to bring bombing runs to a halt. The so-called human shields remained on Navy lands until May 4, when they were removed by U.S. authorities.

Island Makes Amnesty International's List Of Human-Rights Violators

By Iván Román

June 2, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

It's certainly not an honor roll.

Most places try hard -- although some don't seem to try at all -- not to appear on this list. Puerto Rico had the dubious distinction of being included for the first time this year.?

Among 153 countries criticized by the human-rights organization in Amnesty International Report 2002, Puerto Rico debuts for the U.S. Navy's "excessive force" against protesters on Vieques.

This doesn't approach the level of brutal beatings and extortion by police reported in Mozambique or the murder of human-rights activists in Mexico. But activists say the transgressions on the island are human-rights violations, and they want local authorities to take note.

Lawyer Carmelo Campos Cruz, a local Amnesty International member, said shining a bright light sometimes works. Of 408 accusations of specific human-rights violations last year, he said, 117 were solved successfully.

"Any government that claims to believe in human rights can't just dismiss these violations," Campos said.

The report released Tuesday in London questions the Navy's use of tear gas and rubber bullets last year against demonstrators on Vieques who want the Navy to leave that island/municipality. The report also says men and women complained "of humiliating procedures during clothed body searches."

Military personnel were accused of withholding food, water, medicine and access to a phone for long periods, and federal authorities reportedly denied lawyers access to those arrested until they were brought before a judge after two or three days' detention. The report urges the military to "act in moderation" when dealing with demonstrators.

Navy officials denied any inhumane treatment and said they simply took measures to maintain order. They responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, they said, when protesters attacked their security personnel with rocks and other objects fired from huge slingshots. But many leaders, including ministers and police, contradict that. Videos of the detention procedures leaked to the public also raised doubts about the Navy's version of events.

"This helps us unmask the Navy's treatment in international circles and forums and gives another push to the investigation about excessive force that . . . seems to be stuck in neutral," said Ismael Guadalupe, a spokesman for the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques.

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